Having a Thankful Heart in Difficult Circumstances


Imagine that you had just built a playground for your grandson. You spent thousands of dollars on it, invested countless hours sweating over the correct dimensions, architectural design, and hammering all the pieces together. Upon completion, you eagerly take your grandson into the back yard to show him his new surprise. He screams with excitement, gives you a big hug, and says, “You are the best.” Whenever he goes to his new playground he remembers to thank you for this wonderful gift.

How would that make you feel? Wouldn’t that make you feel good inside and eager to bless him with something else? Now consider if you went through all that work and spent all that money only to have your grandson jump on the swing a few times and walk away bored. Never once did he show any appreciation or thank you for investing time. Wouldn’t that make you feel awful? Wouldn’t that make it hard for you to continue blessing him in the future?

Let’s be honest. Most of the time we are the ungrateful grandson. Instead of thanking God constantly for dying in our place, saving us from eternal wrath, we complain about the traffic jam on the highway, coffee being too hot, or the chairs in the sanctuary not being comfortable enough. Shouldn’t we be thankful that we have a car, a Starbucks to go to, or this physical building?

Other times we may not complain about anything, but simply forget to thank God. We are too busy taking our children to Baseball games, watching Television, or downloading applications on our iPhone that we simply forget to thank God for all the love and mercy He has shown to us. I want you to pause for a moment and thank God for everything he has given to you, whether it’s work, school, friends, family, food, a church home, sleep, a mind composed of billions of neurons, health, or whatever else comes to your mind.

#1: Be thankful to God, even in difficult circumstances.

It is true that living in a sin-cursed world makes it difficult to always rejoice in the Lord with Thanksgiving. It would be abnormal for us to shake the hand of the doctor with a big smile on our face saying: “Thank you for telling me I have cancer.” I heard a story of a woman who was in her late twenties. She had two kids and was pregnant with the third. Her husband had just finished seminary and landed a ministry position at a church. As they were about to start their new adventure in life, they heard the news from the doctor that she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and only had a couple months to live.

What made it more challenging was she still had six more months before the baby was due. This was a difficult moment for both of them. However, they continued to trust in the Lord, she ended up giving birth to the baby, but then shortly thereafter, she died. Later, the man remarried and their three children are completely healthy. Despite these circumstances, God was still good to them. Would you continue to be thankful?  Example 1: God allowed Satan to test Job and take everything from him. Later his own spouse told Job to curse God and die because of his suffering, but Job held on to his integrity. Read with me Job 2:9-10. These are both powerful examples of being thankful to God even when things fall apart.

Example 2: When Paul and Silas were cast into prison for being righteous men, did they grumble to the Lord? Let’s see in Acts 16:25. “and at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God: and the prisoners heard them.” They took Matthew 5:11 seriously, which states: “Blessed are you when men shall hate you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my namesake.” Because they were praising God despite their harsh conditions, God answered their prayer. What happens next in Acts 16:26: “Suddenly there was a great earthquake so that the foundations were shaken.” What does this inform us about God’s love for us, even when things seem to be falling apart? We should continue to be thankful because God has good plans for us. He works together for good to those who are calling according to His purposes.

Example 3: David Livingstone was a Scottish Congregational missionary. He was known as the Protestant missionary martyr, a scientific investigator and explorer, an antislavery crusader, and most importantly, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. He was having much success with his missions to Africa despite his circumstances. His wife Mary endured poor health and died of malaria. His oldest son Robert died in the war, and his other daughter Elizabeth died two months after her birth.

Mr. Livingstone took his final breaths while kneeling in prayer at his bedside in thanksgiving and gratitude towards God. He died of malaria and internal bleeding caused by dysentery. Britain wanted the body to give him a proper burial, but the tribe he worked with in Africa would not give him to them. Finally, they agreed, but cut the heart out and put a note on the body which said: “You can have his body, but his heart belongs in Africa!”

What is true about all three of these individuals? They affected those around them. Job showed his spouse what it meant to trust in the Lord and not to complain about hard circumstances. Paul and Silas had such great faith, despite their situation. This led to the Philippian Jailer and his entire household being converted. David Livingstone, a praying man, stood up against the evil of slavery and shared the gospel to countless people in Africa. Not only was he honored there, but there are schools, streets, and mountains named after him in New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, and the United States.

Think about your sphere of influence. Is your thankful heart motivating them to change their lives and trust in Christ? Or, are you looked at as a hypocrite who attends church but never gives thanks to God at home or at work? People are watching us. Our thankful hearts can influence those around us not because we are special, but because we serve a living God who is.

#2: An unthankful heart can lead to deadly consequences.

An unthankful heart is found in somebody who doesn’t appreciate the things that God has given them. It is always dwelling on the negative, despite the positive. Do you know people in your workplace that you avoid because they depress you? The other day I was helping students in an English class and a young man told me he received a 13 out of 20 on an English exam. I missed 7 so I didn’t do very good he said to me. I said: “Well, you can do better, but rejoice that you got more correct than incorrect.

He looked at me as if I was born on another planet. I ended our conversation by giving him an example of a cup with half of it water. Is it half-full or half-empty? Many times people look at their lives with a half-empty attitude. People who are unthankful will naturally have negative personalities, find it easy to complain about little things, or easily become moody.

An example of this is in Numbers 11:18-20 where the Israelites would go about complaining, even after God had delivered them from the hands of their enemies. In Numbers, we are told of how the Israelites were grumbling over the manna that God was giving them every morning they awoke, so God gave them meat all right…so much that they were vomiting it out of their noses: Let’s read this passage now. They shouldn’t have been complaining about the food they were receiving. God was taking care of them but they had covetous hearts and always wanted more.

Romans 1:21 tells us that God can give people over to uncleanliness because of their unthankfulness. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” For this reason, God gave them over to their vile affections.”

In my own life, I notice that when I become unthankful and bitter I am more vulnerable to sin. It causes me to get down and depressed, which affects my relationship with my wife and my own son. Don’t allow yourself to complain or become unthankful because it will ruin your relationship with God and others. Last semester I wrote a journal indicating each time I made a complaint about something, whether it was the weather, a bad grade on an exam, getting stuck in traffic, or financial issues.

The more cognizant I was of my complaining, the more prepared I was to fight against it. I also read specific scripture verses that reminded me to repent of this. Here is an example: Turn with me to Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing. 1 Peter 4:9: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling and Philippians 4:8 which says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” What is it that you are unthankful for?

Unthankful people are known to be bitter or unforgiving towards themselves, God, or other people. In Matthew 18, we see a picture of the unthankful servant who was forgiven of a great debt but could not forgive his fellow servant of a much smaller debt. If a person is bitter or holds things against others, then it shows us that they are unthankful for what God has done for them. Read Matthew 18:32-35. Therefore, if we don’t want to be called a wicked servant, then it is necessary that we forgive those who have offended us. 1 John 3:14 states: “He that does not love his brother abides in death.”

We watched a Christian movie last night called hardflip. The story is about a young skateboarder who loses his Mom to a brain tumor and a Dad who was absent from his life for eighteen years. When his Dad hears about their situation, he tries to help but his son is bitter and unforgiving towards him. He keeps bringing up examples to his Dad about all the times he failed, including an embarrassing moment he had at a young age for Father appreciation month. All the kids in his class brought their Dads and talked about what they did for a living, but this young man had to make up a story, telling his classmates his Dad couldn’t come because he was an astronaut.

As time goes on, the young man gets into trouble with the law and the rent he has to pay for the house. The Dad steps up and helps him out. The young man gets angry again. Toward the end, the young man tries to kill himself, but the Dad steps up and takes him to seek medical attention. After all of this, the young man finally forgives his Dad because he realizes how thankful he should be in his circumstances. What about you? Have you been unforgiving towards someone that may have done harm to you? Repent and forgive them so that you don’t end up with an unthankful heart.

The two other characteristics as a result of never being satisfied are they always want more and they don’t take care of what God has given them. When we become greedy, we are thinking about things we don’t have rather than what we do have. Unfortunately, during Thanksgiving, people talk more about what they are going to get for Black Friday rather than what they already have. This leads them to to take care of what they have.

#3: How do you become thankful for the Kingdom of God?

Whatever you think about throughout the day, will affect your whole personality and mood. If you spend your day thinking about golf, you will become a golf fanatic. If you spend your time thinking about traveling, you’ll want to always be going somewhere or doing something, you will spend your day daydreaming about being somewhere on vacation. If you spend your day thinking about the negative things around you and things you can complain about, you will develop a pessimistic personality. It will pull you down, and since pessimism and optimism are opposites, whichever one you allow to feed your mind will eventually push the other one farther and farther away.

One of the vital steps to developing a thankful personality is to meditate (that is to think about often) the things that you have in your life to be thankful for. Make a list of the things God has done for you, and keep those things on your mind throughout the day. It may take a little more work at first, especially if your mind is programmed to think negatively. This process is the tearing down of strongholds and the renewing of your mind as God’s Word tells us:

Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

How do we renew our minds? Do we renew them by sitting in church, daydreaming about other things? No, we renew our minds by feeding and meditating on uplifting things (blessings in our lives) and the truth in God’s Word. A pastor can help feed us the truth is he or she is preaching the Word of God as the Word was meant to be preached, but it is up to us to take what we hear and allow our minds to feast upon it. Philippians tells us what we are to set our minds upon which includes the things that are uplifting, lovely, of good report, etc.

Philippines 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

Why are newborn Christians so on fire for God? Because their newborn experience is fresh on their mind, they think about it all the time, and since it’s a glorious thing to think about, they are naturally all fired up over their newfound relationship with God! The same is true when a person first comes into the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They are ecstatic because they are meditating or thinking often about the great gift they have been given!

The reason so many Christians lose their fire is because they’ve stopped thinking about the wonderful gifts they’ve been given. We as Christians should continue in this exciting and think often about our relationship with God and the blessings He’s given to us. If we do that in our everyday lives, we will have perfect peace.

Isaiah 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”

My challenge to you is to stop and ask yourself, “What have I been thinking about for the past week?” If you want to change the way you perceive things, then you’ll have to change the way you think. If you want to develop a thankful heart, then you’ll need to meditate and think about the good things God has blessed you with. Even if it seems you have nothing to be thankful for, you have been blessed far beyond those living in the OT era, because of what Jesus has done for YOU! Healing, prosperity, joy, peace, and deliverance are all parts of what Jesus has done for YOU! God’s Word tells us that ear hath not heard, nor eye has seen the great things that lie ahead for those who love God! Every one of us has a LOT to be thankful for!

Meditate on this passage.”But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

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